During the first week of Lent, “temptation” was the recurring theme. It was in everything. In the week’s Gospel and the Little Black Book reading, and in the start of abstaining from sweets for the season. It appeared in my reading of Fr. Martin’s Jesus book, and at a social event featuring frost-your-own-cupcakes. I never saw myself as one to succumb to temptation, so it wasn’t something I’d really thought about before. But maybe that means I do.
I’m starting to understand that temptation isn’t merely resistance. It’s more than resisting to tell a little white lie, and more than choosing fruit over my favorite sugar cookies (but those cookies are really good). These are relatively easy to overcome, so there’s a sense of satisfaction when you don’t eat that cookie. It’s a little prideful, no? But temptation lies in your thoughts, too. These can be ungodly things that become habit, until they don’t register as a “temptation” anymore. Like believing you “can’t” do something, even though all things are possible with God. Like believing you’re ugly, even though we are made in His image. The real temptation is not believing the lies about yourself, and there’s where I succumb all the time.
I’ve never been great in the self-esteem department, and Satan knows that. He knows just the thing that’ll switch my mood from “good” to “everything is terrible.” It’s not just tempting to feel sorry for yourself—it’s often easier. You don’t have to do anything, besides whine. It’s tempting to talk yourself out of responsibility, because nothing matters, anyway. Sent a typo in an important email? You’re stupid. Try on a pair of poorly-cut pants? You’re fat. What’s the point?
The point is, you’re being ridiculous. None of that is true. The temptation is to wallow in self-pity and never ask God’s forgiveness, but I guarantee that’s not how He wants you to live.
I heard the recollection of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert several times during the week. There was one thing I never understood—the temptations of Satan. Sure, Jesus was human and experienced human things, but couldn’t he still ignore the devil? The way the story is told doesn’t help, either, like this is merely friendly banter between friends. But those temptations are more than we can see. Jesus was the only one there, so we know only what he wants us to know. I imagine the actual experience was worse. Just like our temptations are more than just resisting cupcakes.
I keep on picking on food, but that’s a real struggle, too. Look at Satan’s first temptation: it’s food. I get hungry after four hours, so I can’t imagine fasting for forty days. Jesus is hungry, and Satan is like, “You know, you can turn those rocks into food.” Duh, Jesus. But he doesn’t. Our sustenance is more than just food. It’s God. I’m starting to learn that I won’t pass out if I’m hungry, because Jesus sustains me. He supports me. As much as I’d like to live on bread alone (I love bread), I can’t. Nor do I want to.
Temptation is always going to be there. But if you don’t eat cookies for a while, you don’t have that craving for cookies. I have apply that to my emotional health, too. “Look on the bright side.” I made a typo in an email, but we all make mistakes (maybe the recipient didn’t even notice). Those new pants look terrible, but the cut isn’t suited to my body type. Sometimes it’s hard to be positive. But the more you avoid the temptation of self-pity, the easier it is to overcome it. There will be sad days, but you pick yourself back up. Light spreads easier than darkness, like noticing that first streak of sunlight after a days-long rain.
Maybe that’s something else to give up during Lent—that negativity. The temptation to see everything as terrible. Because that’s definitely not true.